Solace & Strength - Timothy A. Sabin

"Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."

The question remains after 60 years: who made the better peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches? I say it was Mrs Farrington, who was very generous with the marshmallow and let us enjoy that airy nothingness called Wonder Bread. On the other hand, Mrs Jordan was sparing of the fluff, heavy on the protein-laden peanut butter, and always spread the filling on the health food of 1958, Roman Meal whole-wheat bread. The sandwiches were served in abundance at all Sunday School functions of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church. I have in mind today particular memories of this richness when we kids sat outside in the Sukkot Booth; ate too many sandwiches; swilled far too much Orange Crush soda; and listened to the Rev'd Mr. Staples tell us about our Jewish heritage. Yes, I speak of the Jewish heritage that we little Methodists shared with the Lord Jesus. Jesus was our friend and companion, and he wanted us not just to love his people but to tell their great stories.

No Christmas passed without our hearing of Hanukkah; for Easter we marched through the Red Sea waters with our hero Moses. And no hint of autumn blessed the Maine summer air, nor did  golden leaves fall among the slate-marked graves of mouldering Yankees outside the white clapboard church, none of this lightly touched the summer-tired senses of Sunday School ladies and their charges without our happy pilgrim adventure, the Feast of Tabernacles.

That feast, commonly known as “Sukkot”, or “Tents”, is one of the three primordial and primary events of Jewish life, along with Passover and Pentecost. The authority for the Feast is found in Exodus and in Leviticus. The former: “…[t]hou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.” The latter more spiritual: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…”

So the Farrington, Jordan, and Olson men built a frame against the church while the rest of us waited with boughs of scent-rich white pine to adorn the finest booth in all of New England--well, if not the finest, perhaps the only one at a Methodist Church.

We loved the great Jewish stories our fathers told and our mothers sang. We cherished the human and humane Methodism taught by Mr. Staples that was set to universal harmony by “This is my Father’s World”, and the first lessons in Judaism which left us singing early praises to the Lord, the kindly Lover of Israel. I grew from those days of late childhood and early adolescence to be a Methodist and a Jew--as I must tell you, I still am.

It is a pretty picture. Yet now how easy to be tired and worn out and fed up. When illness or accident strikes what was a secure and comfortable home, when BBC America reports horrors in the next street and throughout the globe, it is little wonder that we feel God has thrown our booth of pine into the dustbin. Our Father’s world is replete, even more than with natural disasters, with man-made tragedies. Faith, hope, charity dissolve into a mire of doubt, fear, and resentment. The journey often seems too hard to bear.

But just then we are obliged by our Christian commitment to say we need help. To ask for solace and strength. For just a moment of simple comfort. For one of Mrs Farrington’s gooey sandwiches. There’s no fault in ducking under the pine boughs for quiet time in the booth.

Yet we sit in the booth next to the Lord Jesus, who lived through such as we live through now; died to it; and rose above it. Hearing such solace, we want to build him an even greater booth, which will be a mansion right here where we can stay with Him forever. He tells us, however, to grasp an urgent truth: His coming then and still today has as its purpose to endow us with the strength to leave the booth and be about our business. The sweet-scented tabernacle must be torn down.

Yes, we need and must have refreshment, solace, rest. We may relax in the booths of the Hebrew fathers and mothers and the rabbi Jesus. But refreshed for the journey, and confident that the Table is ready for us, we must leave and serve the world in Jesus’ name.